Tom Barnett’s Famous Powerpoint

Tom Barnettís famous Powerpoint presentation can now be viewed online, courtesy of C-SPAN. The briefing takes 90 minutes and is followed by 1 hour of Q&A.

Having read The Pentagonís New Map several months back and having some time now to digest and consider his ideas, I was oddly curious and strangely compelled to see the famous Pentagon briefing that started it all. Having watched it, I have to say Iím struck by one overwhelming feeling: his sense of optimism. I might even say heís an idealist.

Tom envisions a world where a super-empowered UN, with a much expanded Security Council serving as an Executive (he recommends the G-20), decides where and when the US intervenes to enable the Core to take a bite out of the Gap.

I have to say Iím deeply torn by this idea. The Realist in me laughs. But the Idealist in me is intrigued:

The Realist speaks: Tom is deeply deluded, Iím sorry to say. For all his good intentions (the road to Hell is paved with good intentions: just look at the current UN) nation states simply do not act that way. They never have. And they never will. They are not going to want a world in which the US wields that level of authority and power, whether they have a say in its use or not. Weíll simply been seen as too dangerous.

In addition, theyíll resent it. With that level of uncontested military power will come an enormous amount of hard diplomatic power, weíll be the hyper-puissance of French nightmares. Nation states will not be interested in enabling that power, only in undermining it. Possibly in defeating it outright. Power among nations is a zero-sum game. Your gain is my loss. Your loss is my gain. Thatís reality.

The Idealist speaks: Tom is on to something. The G-20 represents 2/3 of the worldís population and 90% of its GNP. That level of representation brings with it a degree of moral and political authority that just canít be matched. Like it or not, numbers speak.

It also solves a major political problem: how to use American military power in a way that coincides with what the Core views as its best interests and yet doesnít frighten them into believing that maybe, just maybe, that power might be turned on them. It gives them a say in how the world is run. That is at the heart of much of what passes for anti-Americanism in the world. The simple idea that the US is going to do whatever it feels is in its best interest regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. And itís not just that the US will try to advance its interests, they can do it and will do it. And being the strongest economic and military power, no one seems to be able to stop them. That simple and startling fact scares the piss out of an awful lot of people. Understandably so. It also breeds tremendous resentment and a need to assert oneís own power even if the result is counterproductive for the world as a whole. On the other hand, people can accept lots of heretofore unacceptable things as long as they have a say beforehand.

The Realist speaks: Who are we kidding? Ourselves? With only 5 members on the UNSC, itís virtually impossible to get them to agree on a common course of action. How bad do you think itís going be when there are 20 members?! Youíll be lucky to get them to agree the sky is blue. Think of the competing interests among the states: commercial ties, military contracts, competition for resources, ethnic minorities applying pressure, not to mention bribes and corruption, double-dealing, hidden agendas, all the qualities that have plagued nations and peoples since the dawn of time. None of that is going to change. A committee of 20 acting as an executive is simply a formula gridlock. I guarantee it.

I have to admit, the Realist won that argument. Iím extremely skeptical of the idea. Some part of me wants to believe those 20 members can and would act together to further the interests of the world. However, in my lifetime Iíve watched the UN drop the ball over and over and over again. I just find it impossible to believe that expanding the UNSC to 20 competing voices is the answer. On the other hand, I donít have a better idea.

That being my major criticism, the rest of the presentation is brilliant. The concepts of the Core and Gap, and their relation to war, poverty and terrorism are key insights. I also believe heís hit on a primary solution to our dismal record on Ďwinning the peaceí with his Leviathan and SysAdmin plan. On those, Barnett has shown himself to be a strategic thinker of the highest quality. For that reason, find 90 minutes in your schedule to watch his brief. You wonít regret it.

Tom Barnettís website
The Leviathan & The System Administrator
Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map

21 thoughts on “Tom Barnett’s Famous Powerpoint”

  1. The important thing is not that Barnett’s ideas are unworkable. The important thing is that Barnett recognizes the key world problems and is proposing solutions. He is one rational voice, where there should be thousands. Where are all the rational voices? Barnett is doing his part. Where are all the others?

  2. I addressed some of these points in my review of Barnett (among other books) in National Interest, which can be found here.

    [edited by JG to display link]

  3. I don’t think a G-20 based international body is unworkable provided we structure the institution properly. Its charter would have to make crystal clear that the organization’s raison d’etre is the spread of social and economic connectivity, and that this includes the occaisional use of force in hopeless messes like Sudan or North Korea, unlike the UN which is structurally designed to prevent meaningful military action.

    It should also take the form of a Commonwealth, as in the amount of say you get in it depends on what proportion of resources you’re willing to put into it. This way if France doesn’t want to pony up anything, they have no excuse to bitch and moan and would have no veto power at all.

  4. Barnett has gotten a lot of play on the Boyz.

    I had a review essay about Barnettís book on the blog here and here.

    TM Lutas had a link on this blog to an interview posted on his own blog here. He also commented on the implications of the Core / Gap dichotomy for libertarian thinking, here.

    Ginny had some related comments here, about terrorism, and I linked to the underlying articles in the comments.

    This early post by Mr. Hiteshew has a guest appearance by Tom Barnett himself in the comments.

    Barnettís own blog is always worth reading. He is currently working on the sequel to PNM. I eagerly await it.

    Jim Bennettís review essay, which includes a discussion of Barnettís book, which he links to above, is very solid. I hope to have further comments about it on here soon.

  5. You guys, especially Lex, need to read James C. Bennett’s article in The National Interest. He criticizes/extends Barnett’s core/gap model. Towards the end, he also provides some thoughts about Old Europe which, if correct, go a long way towards explaining the current situation.

  6. Erk. Next time I will not leave my comment window open for hours before clicking on POST.
    I’m embarrassed.

  7. Amazing line of reasoning … I’m glad the realist won the debate … The fact that one has 90% of anything does not bring any more moral weight to a decision … the idealist in me does not get a warm feeling of idealism with the number 90%. Our representative goverment asserts that the majority are not always right …

  8. Thanks, Lex.

    Not to go fanboy on Jim here, but I found his essay truly illuminating.

    The past few years I’ve been reading a lot, trying to better understand where we are, how we got here, and where we’re going. Ken Pollack, Walter Mead, Victor Davis Hanson, Ralph Peters, Robert Kagan, Tom Barnett; all the usual A-list writers.

    Even after all that reading, there were still a lot of things that didn’t make sense — especially Old Europe’s behavior.

    Jim’s essay helped explain that.

    I think Jim is on to something important here. I have no way of proving that his explanation of OE’s behavior is right, but OE’s behavior is not only generally consistent with his explanation, but perfectly rational if the explanation is correct.

    This is both good and bad. Good: it helps us understand where OE is coming from. Bad: it means the relationship between the US and OE will get (possibly much) worse over the coming decade; that we can’t expect any meaningful help in Iraq or with the hard problems with Iran and NK; and that there’s a distinct possibility that OE will actively sabotage for us and our allies (e.g. by arming China) when it is in their short-term interest to do so.

    Not very happy thoughts.

  9. I don’t think the directions for Europe I described are inevitable. For the last seven or eight years, I had been thinking that continental Europe was facing a “Japan decade” — a long slump that would eventually force a painful structural readjustment. However, while I was writing this review, I started to look at the alternative scenarios a little more carefully, especially after the gory details about the “Oil-for-Food” program came out, and as the depth of the Eurabian problem became more apparent after the Van Gogh execution. (To be clear, the “Eurabian problem” is not the presence of Mulsims in Europe, but the failure of Europe to understand what assimilation requires, and to make it happen.) There is still a chance that the Europeans will reform themselves and deal with their assimilation problems in time. But I don’t see it happening fast enough, and the alternatives I outlined do have some inbuilt biases tending events in their direction.

    Watch the Galileo program, by the way. (Its progress is being chronicled at It is a useful indicator. It has no commercial or programmatic purpose other than letting Europe sell precision-guided munitions that the US cannot turn off. If they go ahead with this multi-billion dollar program it is an indication of which path they are pursuing.

  10. Thanks – to everybody. Hiteshew, Lex, and the guests – and thanks to Bennett for his article. What a wonderful present when we all have time to read and enjoy.

  11. Jim,

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, Galileo is mostly just a high concept to focus energy on improving the data and performance of the existing US system and to press the military to spend the money on changing over to the Block IIR, IIR-M, and IIIM SVs. The Europeans do have a legitimate complaint, however much I hate to admit it, in that the US military has a habit of shutting down a whole swath of GPS coverage area without bothering to warn anyone that its coming, which is annoying if you’re relying on the system to say, not crash your super tanker into a populated coast. heh.

  12. Scott, I hope you’re right. But these big European aerospace boondoggles have a way of developing momentum once the contracts start flowing, even worse than US programs.

  13. I think that Barnett is asking the right questions with the right intentions. How can we create a world worth living in? What actions and structures would achieve that? I find his prescriptions somewhat troubling. He’s recommending extremely sweeping (and expensive) measures with little or no rigor in his method. Is there really a Core? Is there really a Gap? Or are these ideas artifacts of recent events and map-drawing?

    His inclusion of Russia and China (and India) as part of the Core strikes me as wishful thinking. Correspondence with TM Lutas has suggested a third classification: proto-Core.

    The problem, of course, with that distinction is that once you remove Russia, China, and India from the Core you’ve removed a third of humanity and undermined Barnett’s prescriptions.

    What I believe we actually see in the world today is a broken consensus. Fordism is collapsing everywhere under the dual burdens of globalization and its own faulty construction. Further Fordist bandaids won’t change that.

  14. A G-20 or any such construct will not work. It would be little different than the U.N. There are too many countries with different interests than the U.S. For example, while China has recently expanded it’s economic ties with the U.S., it is on a path to becoming at least a regional power and possibly a world power. This will inevitably lead to conflict (of some sort). In addition China has not devised a stable political system to go along with it’s new found economic wealth. Furthermore, France has publicly stated that one of it’s main foreign policy goals is to thwart the U.S. How would any of this be different in a G-20 organization.

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  16. re: Realism and PNM

    My impression from the book/presentation and reading Dr. Barnett’s blog is that his sequence of UNSC/G-20/US-Leviathan/Core-Sys Admin/ICC is more or less the future PNM gameplan when everyone is on roughly the same “Rule-Set page”. I don’t believe he’s saying that this is possible right this minute, today.

    I’ve seen enough from him to be assured that he realizes that the UN is basically a broken tool and that there are substantial differences between Europe and the US in terms of what Rules should govern intervention. Moreover, he’s stated that the Rules favored by the EU types are unworkable for Leviathan interventions which in his brief he says must remain outside of that kind of accountability scope.

    Barnett also, and this should please the realists out there, favors basically a dual sysytem of international law with one set for intra-Core relatons and another for Core-Gap relations based on the ground realities of the Gap – anarchy, dictatorship, terror, failed states etc.

    This is radical realism since it contravenes the equality of sovereign states – fine by me because much of the Gap either cannot exercise Sovereignty or does so selectively to our disadvantage.

  17. Barnabus,

    “A G-20 or any such construct will not work. It would be little different than the U.N. There are too many countries with different interests than the U.S.”

    Way to think inside the box. The entire point is to structure the incentives such that the areas where we share common interests are emphasized, and if you read my post I presented a perfectly feasible idea for a Commonwealth of the Core — stated raison d’etre is the spread of global connectivity (using force where applicable — I’m looking at you Kim Jong Il), and you get out what you pay in. In such an institution it’s rather hard to rationalize blocking the use of force against an insane totalitarian, but if for some reason another country wanted no part of it, they could pick up their ball and go home.

    “For example, while China has recently expanded it’s economic ties with the U.S., it is on a path to becoming at least a regional power and possibly a world power. This will inevitably lead to conflict (of some sort).”

    Again, way to think inside the box. There is no strong reason why the US and China necissarily must or should come into any kind of serious conflict. If you start building strategic partnerships with them now and dangle them some carrots like oil deals with Iraq or a back-down on Taiwan, they’ll be your friend.

    “In addition China has not devised a stable political system to go along with it’s new found economic wealth.”

    What makes China “unstable”? I would consider them stable enough, but that’s not the point anyway; they’re in the process of changing their internal rulesets, and we should do what we can to help these changes go smoothly precisely because in our globalized world it is in our interests to do so.

    “Furthermore, France has publicly stated that one of it’s main foreign policy goals is to thwart the U.S. How would any of this be different in a G-20 organization.”

    Again, you’re stuck in Robert Kagan-land. An organization like a Commonwealth of the Core would take the wind out of France’s objections to the use of US power because there would be a set of transparent rulesets institutionalized for where force is applicable and where it isn’t, and the general procedures of such operations. The UN is designed to prevent action, so France’s actions are permissable in that forum; a CoC would be expressly designed for action, so there France would simply be (rightly) regarded as obstructionist.

  18. I didn’t get a chance to read alot of kagan’s material. I would appreciate if someone could give me the very short version. Were does the U.S Constitution fit in all of this?

  19. Robert Kagan wrote “Of Paradise and Power”, a short, insightful, brilliant book on the different worldviews of Europeans and Americans and the cultural and strategic realities underlying those differences.

    The book sprang from an essay he wrote for Policy Review magazine. The essay can be read here.

  20. The great challenge of any form of collective executive is the same as for any “grand jury”. There is, today, no reliable method of prosecuting jury tampering. In fact, jury tampering is a recognized legitimate part of the system as it is currently constituted. The PRC blows into town and bestows huge contracts on a functioning majority of the UNSC over the three months prior to an invasion attempt of Taiwan. The PRC wouldn’t even need to use its veto on the inevitable subsequent resolution “indicting” it. It’s freshly bribed working majority would give it a propaganda coup legitimizing its actions.

    The entire UNSCAM issue has to be watched carefully. All Core countries have very strict rules on keeping juries and prosecutors honest. Any global version of the same system has to have the same sort of safeguards. Those safeguards are sorely lacking and Saddam has been an innovator in exploiting that lack.

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